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More on MIT OpenCourseWare 284

lewiz writes "Over at BBC News they have an update on the MIT initiative to give away all course material for free over the Internet that we read about on Slashdot quite a while ago. The full story details how they are doing it in the hopes that other Universities will follow suit. This seems an amazing thing considering the more recent moves toward pay-per-use services but definitely a good thing and I wish them the best of luck. The only question I see is whether or not this will help in the way of "official qualifications" - what if we know a large portion of a certain course... how do we go about proving it?"
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  • Maybe we can see some open source plans for that giant Tetris game that was built on the side of a building!
    • Re:WooHoo! (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      That was at Brown, not MIT.
  • by grayrest ( 468197 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @12:49PM (#4307170) Homepage
    >how do we go about proving it?

    Take the class, break the curve and insist everybody else is stupid for not knowing it. At least, that's how it works here at GaTech, MIT might be different.
    • Simple, You pay to take the exams.
      As if you do course-work, pay to get it assessed and marked.

      In Britain we have The Open University, ( not quite the same thing but not far off
    • Here we just take the test out exam. And if you pass it, you get credit.
    • Basically what they are saying is this: "the education is free but the credit is not". Learn all you want but your still going to have to pay. Personally this will work well for me if i can do this when i grauate high school but i know plenty of other people that will never do anything but the bare minimum in a class. Most people in my classes in high school dont try to learn the subject material, they just learn the test answers.
  • Certification (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @12:50PM (#4307172) Journal
    what if we know a large portion of a certain course... how do we go about proving it?"

    This is the thing. Colleges and universities are obselete. I think Brainbench had the right idea, just have many little certifications that make up the summary of your qualifications. What is the difference if someone learns something by reading online documents or by going to hear some windbag talk about it for 50 minutes? There isn't.

    I think in the next 20 years we will see the demise of higher education as we know it. As older people that have obselete ideas about degrees meaning something die off, the new generation of managers that will value skills above sheepskins will come into power. Then we will see real reform in the education and training markets.

    Higher education, as it exists now, is something like an organized religion, with plenty of dogma and rabid followers and supporters. I'm sure I will be flamed by those people shortly. I went to college, I did my four years, it was really pointless.... I couldn't recommend it to anyone with the intelligence to learn things on their own.
    • It would be great if there were a service like Brainbench, only free. "Open Certification" or something.

      Problem is, with Brainbench and other testing groups online, you're not proving you KNOW the material--just that you're able to do a quick Google search.

      • lets see, you want it to prove it's you, and make it free?
        And the test really can't be open,I mean, testing is kinda where the whole obscurity thing actually helps.

        What we really nead is a good formal testing, that costs money, but without it, there is no real proof. It will cost money, it costs money to verify the conditions, but then again, even cheap college costs 240 dollors, a course, and you nead to take a lot of bullshit. If a test was 75 or 100 dollors, that would be fine.

        Free and Open just really don't lend themselves to accurate testing unfortunatly.
      • Problem is, with Brainbench and other testing groups online, you're not proving you KNOW the material--just that you're able to do a quick Google search.

        As an employer, what difference would it make? If I can hire one guy who can get the answer in 5 minutes with a Google search, or another guy who can figure it out in a couple of days on his own, which one should I hire?

        Being able to look up answers (and evaluate whether those answers are right, a tougher proposition) is a very valuable skill.

    • Not that my life is necessarily relevant to anyone else's, but.. I started college as a computer science major. I hated class and never went. I ended up switching to poli sci / philosophy. But now I work in web development. I think that there are advantages to the classroom setting when learning humanities subjects, where discussion and interaction are an important part of the learning experience. Learning a skill such as web development, on the other hand, can be done on one's own, by reading the right materials, much more so say learning and understanding Plato's Republic. But that's just my opinion. What do you guys think?
      • Your opinion supports the theory that hands-on disciplines, like web design and software engineering, don't belong in the ivory tower. And I think that is exactly what will happen with all this free content. Which, amusingly enough, will return universities to their place as institutions only for the wealthy who have the money and time to do philosophy and political science.
      • Re:Certification (Score:4, Insightful)

        by epukinsk ( 120536 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:20PM (#4307302) Homepage Journal
        What do you guys think?

        As a decent web designer and fledgling software engineer, I think there's a big difference between web design and software engineering.

    • Re:Certification (Score:5, Insightful)

      by PDHoss ( 141657 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:07PM (#4307248)

      This might be all fine and good for technology-oriented fields, but what about other disciplines? I don't want my kids taught by a teacher who can simply pass the cert. I'm not interested in having my spleen removed by the Johnny-come-lately who knows all the facts and figures but has no experience in doctor-patient relations. My attorney better have taken a few psych courses before he picks my jury.

      You could well argue that it's "real world" experience, not a degree, that separates the shiny certs from the experienced [doctor|teacher|sysadmin|etc.]. But committing to a 4 year degree or similar program tells me, the customer/employer/whatever, that, at the very least, you've got the experience provided by a university and the sizable investment that suggests you'll likely stick it out.


    • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:11PM (#4307264)
      What people are now realizing is that one shot of education, taken right after high school, in a four-year package, is typically not suitable for the career and job changes that will eventually happen for most of us. You hear the term "lifelong learning" being thrown around now and it has a grain of validity. Many of us at some point will return to some type of educational institution for further coursework at some point, even if it is while we are working.

      Colleges will still have a role. Many of them are adapting and offering more options to working individuals and other "part time" students. Many offer online courses. What colleges bring to the table is legitimacy. Most people still put more stock in a course from MIT than one from DeVry. If someone says "MIT", you immediately assume that they had to meet a fairly stringent academic requirement and that the lecturer or prof also had to meet a high requirement. The good schools literally have had hundreds of years to shape their good reputations, and its likely they will continue to capitalize on them.

    • Wrong. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot&keirstead,org> on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:12PM (#4307272) Homepage

      There normally is a HUGE difference between someone who gets a BCS degree and someone who has a stackload of certifications. If you have worked with both then you probbaly know what I am talking about. The massive glut of people with certs in the IT industry is the problem, not the solution. Anyone can buy a few books from, study for a month, and get a crapload of certifications. That doesn't mean they know the in depth fundamentals of computer science. What if some problem occurs on the job where they have to design a new algorithm to tackle a problem? Can an MCSD construct a skiplist in some random programming language he has never used before by the end of the day? I think not. It is the depth of education that marks the difference between a university graduate and someone who possess only certifications. Certifications are the equivalent of a vocational education - hands on training in a certain area. Without the acedemic background to be able to expand your knowledge, you will be stuch in nowheresville.

      • Re:Wrong. (Score:2, Insightful)

        by GigsVT ( 208848 )
        I don't think you understand what I am saying.

        There would be certifications in algorithm design, certifications in algorithm analysis, etc... They would be the same material that is taught in the course of a normal degree, only that the person and employer could pick and choose which skill set they wanted to pay for, on a micro level.

        You are thinking about certifications as they exist today, i.e. specific training and certification usually tied to a commercial product. This is why I mentioned Brainbench, they had several abstract certifications that were approaching this goal.
        • Re:Wrong. (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Hal-9001 ( 43188 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:48PM (#4307409) Homepage Journal
          But the advantage of having completed university coursework for a topic like algorithm design or algorithm analysis is that the grade for that course will represent competence in that field as measured over the course of a quarter or semester. I find it difficult to believe that someone's competence in such an open-ended and abstract field can be assessed by a score on an exam taken in the span of a few hours.

          My $0.02
          • The competance of professors evaluating course-work doesn't stack up much higher.

            The amount of cheating and copying that goes on is astounding. Moreover, the difficultly of a given course varies wildly from professor to professor.

            There is simply no way to do this perfectly. In fact, I don't think that standardized tests are that much worse than evaluation by a professor. I think that it may work better for many subjects and many situations.
        • And what difference is there between a cert in algorithm analysis, and a course in discrete maths + formal languages?

          The problem of the certs, is that no employer can know or specify, in advance, exactly and precisely what future problem needs to be solved. The point is to be flexible, and to be flexible involves not just book knowledge, but an apprecciation of how people currently tackle the problems of today.

          Becuase the problems of tomorrow are caused by the solutions of today.

      • Do you honestly believe some random BCS degree can design a skiplist in some random programming language he has never used before by the end of the day, when he is taught nothing but modula-3 and/or java in college?
        • Yeah I do, if he is worth his apples. I know I could, as long as i had a reference available for the language. Once you understand the concepts, the rest is nothing but semantics.
          • And to be able to process and use enough information to score a certification in a given language wouldn't impart the concepts behind programming well enough, is it?
    • Re:Certification (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dboyles ( 65512 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:14PM (#4307276) Homepage
      I think Brainbench had the right idea, just have many little certifications that make up the summary of your qualifications.

      I agree. There should be a way to divide fields into something called "subjects", and to become certified in each of these individual workshops ("courses"). Once a person ("student") becomes proficient in the basics of each of these "courses", he or she can move on to higher-level "courses" that provide a more in-depth explanation of the "material".

      There will certainly need to be a way to evaluate these "students", so we'll assign them "grades". It would be nice to have some sort of record of this student, so we'll have a database called a "transcript" for each student.

      Huzzah, a revolution in education!

      In all seriousness, I think higher education deserves the respect that it gets. At the risk of sounding redundant, a certification does not equal knowledge, and a college education is much more than the sum of its parts. I've found that by going to class and making an attempt to be interested, I've become intrigued by fields that I otherwise probably would have avoided (like Statistics and Finance).

      I realize college isn't for everybody (on either end of the spectrum), but to imply that a college student is in college because he is not intelligent enough to learn the material on his own is, well, wrong.
    • by StupendousMan ( 69768 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:15PM (#4307278) Homepage
      GigsVT wrote:
      What is the difference if someone learns something by reading online documents or by going to hear some windbag talk about it for 50 minutes? There isn't. ... I couldn't recommend it to anyone with the intelligence to learn things on their own.

      People can read material in books just as well as they can read them on-line. Libraries have existed for centuries. If your argument is correct, universities should ALREADY be obsolete. No one should need to go to college, because everyone can just read books and gain all the skills and knowledge he needs.

      And, yes, I not only went through college, but I now work at one. I'm one of the windbags that GigsVT mentioned. Would you like me to poll the students in my class? "Okay, guys, I'll just stop coming to class, preparing lectures and readings, giving you homework, and answering your questions. Instead, I'll just wait until the quarter ends and give you the final exam."

      Care to wager how many of those students would jump at the chance to avoid this old windbag?

      • Care to wager how many of those students would jump at the chance to avoid this old windbag?

        I jumped at that chance as much as I could. Several courses I was able to only attend exams and get an A nonetheless.

        Most of the other classes I took, this was impossible, due to the professor rigging up some contrived system where grade depended on attendance, such as only accepting assignments during classtime, at the end, from only those who attended the full class. There is obviously a problem if most professors must resort to such tactics to get their captive audience.

        Don't get me wrong, I respect knowledge, and the knowledgable. I think it is the framework that is wrong, the whole paradigm is wrong. There are certain things that can only be learned from those with the experience to teach it, but I think the current system fails at accomplishing that.
      • The case is analogous to software source code. The course materials, on their own, are worthless. They have to be interpreted and kept current by a knowlegable instructor to have value. What constitutes knowlegable is accredation through peer review.
    • by epukinsk ( 120536 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:17PM (#4307289) Homepage Journal
      This is the thing. Colleges and universities are obselete.

      Keep telling yourself that.

    • Sure, for your little microcosm which I am assuming is computer related (like many of the people here) a degree may indeed be irrelevant. This is because those who currently work in the IT/CS world have demonstrated that being self-taught is oftentimes adequate to maintain a good, high-paying job.

      For pretty much every other subject, higher-learning is and will remain necessary. How many self-taught mathematicians and chemists do you know? How many astronautical engineers or geneticists just read a few "Teach yourself xxxx in 24 hours?" and began doing important research?

      I submit to you a different vision of the future... eventually people who really know what they are doing with computers will no longer be a novelty. There is a generation of people behind us who were raised on computers. For them, the skills needed to become a programmer or network adminstrator may be as common as those needed to work retail today. With such a wide base of computer literacy,... perhaps those sys admin and programming jobs will not have the status (or salaries) that they do today. Regardless, despite what it takes to land a job in the field, the science of computing will continue to progress through the efforts of those in the research labs... the people doing the hard-core CS research at universities and industry.

      As for your personal experience, I don't doubt your account at all... but what did you choose to study in college and do you practice in that field today?

      • I agree with Keebler71. For anything other than IT, you really need to be at a university. When I started college 8 years ago, I studied Physics. Sure, you could pick up some introductory books in physics and teach yourself the basics, but, once you get past the basic freshman and sophomore physics, you WILL need some instruction from sources other than books. Have you ever tried to read a book on statistical thermal dynamics or quantum mechanics? I guarantee that unless you are at the level of Einstein or Feynman, you would not be able to learn these topics on your own for the first time.

        Another thing is that many technical fields outside of IT and CS actually require equipment or expensive software in order for you to learn the topics. For instance, when was the last time you bought a spectrum analyzer or a logic synthesis tool like Synopsys Design Compiler?

        What people seem to forget is that a college education gives you a broad background to think critically about the world. You don't have to study an area that relates to your current job. You just need a good background to help you through life.

        After college, I worked for 2 years in the EE field and whenever we hired people, we only hired people with BS in EE or a BS in CS. We would not even look at a candidate with just certifications. When I went to work for the corporate arm of the company, it was very IT focused, but even then, when we were hiring, we never even called back a candidate unless they had a bachelor's degree.

        I just went back to college (CMU) to get my Masters degree in Electrical Engineering. I can tell you that there is no way that I would have been able to learn what I am learning now without being at a university. I know that when I graduate, I will have more options open to me than if I stayed in my previous job. So all you people who think you can get by with certifications, please keep pushing forward on that path. That will help me get a job more easily after I graduate. ;-)
    • i agree with the learning part...though i don't really think certification is the answer. I think that what needs to happen is people need to:

      -look at resumes for experience
      -provide ways to get experience, like internships or apprenticeships

      Without these in place, certification is just another money pit of memorization.
    • Re:Certification (Score:5, Informative)

      by Soft ( 266615 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:22PM (#4307310)
      What is the difference if someone learns something by reading online documents or by going to hear some windbag talk about it for 50 minutes? There isn't.

      Well, as a teacher myself (lecturer or assistant professor depending on your equivalences, on optical telecommunications), I see a few issues with this:

      • You can't really ask questions, especially on adjacent topics: it is not the same to send an email to someone you don't know, as to walk up to the teacher at the end of a lecture.
      • In the maze of information a Google search yields, it is difficult to get the fundamentals as well as to separate the wheat from the chaff; in fact, you have to already know enough about the topic to get to and understand relevant information. Or ask further references to someone who knows.
      • When learning on-line, do you really do the exercises? Yet often you don't really understand what is going on until you practice, programming being a prime example of this. More generally, it is easy to think you understand something - see all the self-taught webmasters who think HTML tag soup is a text formatting tool and is correct as long as IE interprets it...
      Funny, BTW, we had a small debate a few months ago on whether to put our course material on-line. The consensus seemed to be that we should, except for some marketing types who wanted to make people pay for the service or something like that, and those who wanted a control process for letting out only the good. The comments above were pointed out in the process - some by the students themselves IIRC.
      • I don't mean static material would have to completely replace interaction with people more experienced, only that the lecture paradigm is obselete. People learn by doing, as you pointed out. The open source community is a great example of this. There are thousands of self trained people who learned by reading material online, talking to the more skillful through email or through IRC, and just experimenting on their own.

        My point is, mentoring isn't obselete, but the current college/university paradigm was designed centuries ago, and it shows. Classes with 500+ students only serve to highlight the weaknesses of this obselete paradigm.
        • People learn by doing, as you pointed out. The open source community is a great example of this. There are thousands of self trained people who learned by reading material online, talking to the more skillful through email or through IRC, and just experimenting on their own.

          ... and not knowing the difference between a hash table and a binary tree, and thinking that self-modifying code is cool. I've been there myself.

          I indeed pointed out that people learned by doing, but I didn't mean that it was sufficient, merely necessary. You also have to work out the basics, both are critical if you are to master a subject.

          Which is not to say that you can't have both outside of the classroom; if you know you can pull an A at the exam without attending, then by all means do so (I've been there too...)

    • Re:Certification (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Raiford ( 599622 )
      The error in this kind of thinking is that certification says nothing about whether a person knows how to think. A degree doesn't guarantee this either but it comes closer if the person has obtained a degree from a reputable institution in a engineering or science field. A college education is not about specific systems that you may learn about. It is more about learning fundamental concepts which you can apply to problems which require you to use synthetic knowledge.

    • Actually, I would argue that Colleges and Universities are far from being obsolete. You don't enroll in an institution of higher learning to learn new skills that can directly be applied to your job.

      How much does any of the field-specific material you learn during University really get applied on the job. Twenty percent? Maybe 25? A degree is not as much a statement about what you know as it is a statment of your capability for abstract thought and learning skills. Something far more useful than writing a gate arrangement in VHDL ever will be.

      Anyone can learn technical skills, but not many people can actually learn THINKING skills... and judging from the posts I've read so far not much of slashdot can.
    • Certs are a scam from an era long gone, sorry. Has there ever been another career where you could get a well paying job for 3 hours of testing? Has there ever been a market whos cost of entry was a few months of tinkering? It was great while the public didn't know better, but when your 10 year old can do 90% of what the guy making 35k/yr at the hospital does, and he dosen't have any formal training, you start to wonder exactly what went wrong.

      A person with a BS in CS or a similar subject (even a pure math major would be good) has twice as much chance of getting any position above "the IT tech that fixes our damn windows boxen" than someone with 5000 certs.
    • The reason bad employers don't care about what you know, is because the diploma only proves to them that you endured years of steaming bullshit and even paid for it from your own pocket. If proves that you're malleable enough for their demonic desires.

      I think it should be obvious to everyone here that 90% of job security comes from properly taking and giving bullshit, the other 10% is all that's allocated to actual competence.
    • What terrifies me the most is that the government of my country (Australia) seems to think very much the same way that you do. Higher education == the acquisition of job skills. Or, at least, that's the way it should be, and nothing more.

      The thing is, that's not how it is. That's not how it should be. But it's a matter of degree (so to speak), depending on the nature of the course that you're taking. I did a computer science degree at one university, and was extremely dissatisfied with the experience. The majority of the course I did over the 'net, I saw little need for class attendance. It was something I thought I could do just as well through some certification / training school. I'm now doing another degree philosophy and art history at a different university. Whole different ballpark. I look forward to class every week now, because I know that when I go, I'm sure as hell going to learn something, I'm going to get insights from someone who knows what they're talking about (well, generally :).

      The university format for the delivery of that kind of learning is excellent. It provides an environment in which you can discuss the meaning of what you're studying with experienced teachers and students. It provides a social aspect that is different from anything that exists in the "real world." To some people, it's not about getting "job skills", it's about getting an education. That's not the way it needs to be for everyone: from my own experience, I see little reason why CS needs to be taught in a university environment. But there's a big world of knowledge out there, and some of it is better taught face-to-face. Not the mention the fact that female art students are hot. :)

      My government has been attacking higher education for years, cutting funding, forcing it towards becoming a service industry. In my last semester at the university I attended for CS, the university registered itself as a .com, deprecated the use of their domain, and started referring to their teaching staff as "academic consultants." Now that's fucking scary.
    • A few quites from [] in the section on education []

      Some academics are reported saying (Durnks(sic) on the train: More naked emperors?)

      [Students] learn some from highly paid professors who now teach a way of writing that sounds clever whatever you are actually saying. This language has a lot of "theoretical" apparatus. But this is not the testable theorising of scientific method. ... It is a brew of Marx, Freud and Levi Strauss seen through the prism of French intellectuals which have been badly translated.

      It's not all the fault of the academics one says (in I teach them "How to pass your exam in marketing")

      I am a lecturer in marketing at a University in the North of England. During the first term of the past academic year I gave the course I had designed to get students to understand the subject, manipulate its concepts, be creative and make connections between ideas. These are essential skills for someone working in marketing. But I had a minor student revolt! They wanted to have a course that got them through the exam. So now I teach them "How to pass your exam in marketing". Something rather different.

      Credentialism has taken over. (See Ronald Dore's "The Diploma Disease"). But the PR machine of the vested interests will not give up that easily. Gigs VT is too optimistic saying

      > "the new generation of managers that will value skills above sheepskins will come into power. Then we will see real reform in the education and training markets."

      Those in power have been validated by the current system. They will ensure that the market in education remains distorted.

      But I would love to be wrong. The MIT news is the best I have heard on this subject for years and years.

    • Uh, huh.

      See, the problem is not that you can't learn things on your own. Anyone can get the textbook and read the material and understand a class as well as, if not better than, what they'd get listening to lectures.

      But you claimed that universities are obsolete. Not a chance.

      By requiring you to take, say, Calculus I and pass the class, you've established that you have a miniumum skill in that area. An employer can hire you and expect some degree of flexibility -- not just "Well, you can do the current two month project we're working on just fine". There are no "gaps" in your education in that area that seemed uninteresting at the time...but that you'll need down the road.

      I know a couple of extremely intelligent *and* (here's the kicker) knowledgeable people that didn't attend college or went for only a short period of time.

      The thing is, They're probably more talented straight coders than anyone in my CS classes, because they were dedicated and interested, and learned all the material inside out. However, if you then asked them to work some more-than-basic math in, they'd be out of their depth. They know a very narrow field very well, but don't know things outside that area.

      Sure, an employer *could* run out and find someone else to do the math, but ensuring a certain degree of interchangeability and basic standards in all your employees has a rather significant value in and of itself.

      That being said, I strongly feel that, of the engineering programs (traditional engineering -- not software engineering, which is still relatively "young"), many colleges are quite inflexible. Your schedule is laid out well in advance, giving you little leeway to specialize in the areas that you are interested in.
    • I think in the next 20 years we will see the demise of higher education as we know it.

      i've had several different IT jobs in the last several years -- programmer, help desk, sysadmin, project manager, etc. in my personal experience, my 4-year college degree was immensely valuable, and helped me out on a daily basis.

      one small thing, tho. my degree's in creative writing.

      everyone who asks me about college, i tell them the same thing (regardless of what discipline they're interested in): get a liberal education, it's better preparation for almost any kind of job you might have. the more high-quality content there is on the web (hopefully some other universities will follow MIT's lead here), the more people will be able to learn all the IT specific skills they need from that. personally, i learned most of what i know in my spare time setting stuff up on a linux box at home. i took a couple of night classes to learn java and sql.

      the other thing you should think about is that undergraduate education is not central to higher education today. hasn't ever been, afaict. it is primarily a nuisance to the faculty that is tolerated b/c it is a decent supplement to grant funding. so if universities can find a way to get rid of undergraduates but keep some of the funding they now get to support them, it could be a really big advantage for them.


    • Re:Certification (Score:3, Interesting)

      by WEFUNK ( 471506 )
      I agree that higher education will experience many significant and revolutionary changes over the next 20 years (even within the next 5 or so) but I would be cautious about labeling this change as a "demise" of the current system.

      With ever growing public libraries, availability of online texts, open source communities, and initiatives like OpenCourseWare, universities are no longer exclusive bastions of secret hidden knowledge, but they are and will continue to be excellent places to systematically learn broad topics through integrated curriculums offered within immersive environment where students can focus on learning (and often maturing).

      More importantly than acting as a measurement of qualifications, a four year degree (and other programs) *should* provide a guided and integrated educational experience that can accelerate learning faster than the trial and error method of self teaching. A residential educational experience can also provide hands-on laboratory, tutorial, and seminar training experiences that are impossible through any other means.

      Unfortunately, the nature of the university system is such that many schools are missing the point. MIT seems to get it - their strength is not in course notes and materials. Anyone with the proper motivation and ability can teach themselves well enough from notes and books to apply practical knowledge and pass qualifying exams. But a properly run institutional education can help students to learn specific topics faster and more completely, and with a better understanding of how the pieces fit together as a whole.
  • by ejunek ( 562968 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @12:50PM (#4307174) Homepage
    My school [] has already done something very much like this here []. Cybertower, as it's called, is now free and open to the public, but is more interactive with a lot of videos and short films.
    • I just signed up for Cybertower, and while it's certainly interesting, it's definetly not as pervasive across the different programs that Cornell offers. For instance, I was interested in looking at some more advanced Comp. Sci. material, but instead all I saw was discussions on Frankenstein and Wine Appreciation (WTF?). Looks promising, but OpenCourseWare seems like it will be more worthwhile.
  • I was in the process of deciding which distance-learning course to take to further my knowledge of FPGA's. I've written a few verilog cores, but wanted to learn more about the formal side of things - verification, testbenches, floorplanning, etc. etc. This couldn't really come at a better time, assuming they have anything on FPGA design :-))

  • Hopefully the course material will be GPL'd too, so we can all have free access to material that helps our students. I teach a basic CS course at NC State, and I know this material would be very helpful to me.
  • why? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    why should you need to be able to prove it? it's about sharing information, not about getting a piece of paper to prove you know something. if you want the certification, then actually go to the school.
    • Re:why? (Score:3, Informative)

      by dbrutus ( 71639 )
      Well, some people actually want to save a bit of money, others don't have the time for formal classes but can work education in at odd hours. I'm surprised nobody's noted this but there is a program called CLEP [] that does answer the article question, how to prove it. Just take the test. Unfortunately, MIT does not participate.
  • academic/knowledge (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MoonRider ( 31804 )
    what if we know a large portion of a certain course... how do we go about proving it?

    This courses have no academic value ( yet ). They are useful if you want to know more about some specific area, or to help you with your professional career.
  • This is pretty amazing. I think this will be great for two groups of people: 1. those who are already knowledgeable of a certain field and would like to brush up on certain skills, fill gaps in their knowledge, etc. and 2. Professors at other universities who will be able to get a great look at what their colleagues are doing.
    • This is pretty amazing


      Personally I feel prospective students will also see a benefit. I think if I'd been able to see all the course materials of the degree I took - before I applied - I may not have ended up wasting three years.
    • You forgot #3: People who want to prove they can keep up with the big dogs.

      Certification Exams: $2,500

      4-Year degree from a college: $60,000.

      Understanding advanced coursework at MIT: Priceless.
  • The only question I see is whether or not this will help in the way of "official qualifications" - what if we know a large portion of a certain course... how do we go about proving it?"

    That is a problem, but.

    Ever seen the progress of a university student with photographic memory or in a course that's beneath his capabilities? Or one in a course he did before.

    It's prety fast. The secret is that you don't have to atend all the classes. Just do all the homework and coursework and exams.

    This means you could forinstance take on 4 years of university at once and compleat an entyre degree in 12 months if you spent the last 4 year going throgh the online matterial by yourself. (With the silabus and reading list as a guide).

    It will still be expensive but you could concivebly get by with 1/4 to 1/3 of the normal cost for a degree.

  • by tuxedo-steve ( 33545 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @12:58PM (#4307207)
    what if we know a large portion of a certain course... how do we go about proving it?
    Step 1: Enrol in the course.
    Step 2: Take the exams.
    Step 3: Receive a piece of paper with "degree" written on it.

    The purpose of this piece of paper is to demonstrate that you've learned a large portion of a certain course. Use it wisely, my son.
  • I have fairly extensive knowledge of C++ / Visual Basic / HTML / PERL an the like... I have never taken a course or academic program to learn any of this... true, this provides me with no qualifications, but I don't mind much. I'm more of a casual programmer. I just find it very cool that a free resource like this would be open for people who are interested in picking it up.
    • Prove it so that you can become a teacher.

      In my computer programming class, we have considered making a drinking game of the teacher's crashed programs. One drink every time his program crashes during a class demonstration, and another when I explain the problem and correction, despite my inability to read the code on the TV from the far back seat.

      Those taking a course will readily get fed up with the material. I would go mad if not for the various programs I work on after the assignments (a "proxy jumping" telnet client, a UDP instant messenger, and a shoot-the-living-crap out of osama program).

      Programming should be fun, and it should be self taught or communily taught. When students learn more than the teacher(or knew more before taking the class) no good can come if it. I am a sophomore in high school, and I respect 2 of the teachers I've had so far. Just 2.

      It is federal law that the school cannot sell us coke during lunch. Have they nothing better to do!?

      Private school is even worse, a smaller student body equates to a smaller course selection.

      Self teaching won't get you a high school diploma, and for some classes(automotive mechanics for example) the experiance of the teacher is just as important as what you learn by reading ahead as the person in front of you gets busted for marijuana possession.

      I assume that I'm stuck in HS for the duration. Does anyone have a recommendation for what I should do next? I am already profficient in C++, Java, VB(blech!), and RPL. Will a college degree get me a higher salary than "certifications" will? Is it possible to skip the BS courses (geography and phys-ed won't help me understand electrical engineering) and still be certified as an electrical engineer? Is it possible to earn a living through shareware or royalties from patents?
      • Honestly, in this job market, it's an employer's advantage in the hiring process.

        It doesn't matter what you know or how good you are, chances are there is someone just as qualified as you interviewing for the same position who also has a college degree and certs. When the ass fell out of the market, I was working as a network security engineer for a co-lo facility, and frankly, I'm pertty damn good at my job. I never finished college though, and I always scoffed at certifications and training classes. ("Bah, don't waste $5000 sending me to Checkpoint class, bossman, I can learn the features of the new version on my own")

        When it came time to start looking for a new job after being laid off, I interviewed for like 10 jobs. In every single case, they had hundreds of resumes to choose from. Now, I'm pretty good at what I do, but out of hundreds of resumes, chances are good that someone else is just as qualified AND has the papers.

        Thus, I am back in school, getting a degree in something else entirely. (chem) College may seem like a big waste of time to you right did to me when *I* was your age.

        However, the ability to tolerate the bullshit in order to reach your goal (the degree) is a skill that you WILL find useful. Not to mention, you find something you enjoy just as much if not more than hacking out code. (a chemist who can code his own applications and support his own network is worth a ton in the research field right now)

  • by arsheive ( 609065 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:09PM (#4307253)
    Ars Digita founder Phillip Greenspun has been crusading [] for MIT to stop charging tuition for some time. I'm just amazed that his name is never brought up with this story, seeing as MIT finally seems to be doing what he has been trying to do for years, and in some small way perhaps moving toward being tuition-free...
    • Most schools provide servers and encourage their profs to put some of their stuff online. MIT isn't doing anything new or unusual. This has absolutely nothing to do with being tuition-free. It doesn't even have anything to do with taking courses online.
    • I don't see this as a step toward MIT becoming tuition free.

      If anything, they are reinforcing the cachet of the MIT diploma by effectively stating, "our course materials are only a small part of the picture."

      Interesting move, and probably a challenge to Ivy League schools and other prestigious educational institutions to prove that their tuition pays for more than lectures and handouts.
  • This is pretty frikkin' cool. It's good to see that there's still a small amount of people prepared to make something available for free, and something that's actually worth reading.

  • Let us pick up freely what we want to learn, and do it at our own pace... We do not need anyone to put a stamp on our foreheads, saying 'this guy knows classical Latin' or 'I understand special relativity'.

    During my entire life, I have had to pass exams and more exams, written, oral, practical, whatever; I know where to go if I need qualifications, but, for once, I think this is a wonderful opportunity to learn what we would like to know, unspoilt by grades, notes, or whatever the devil thinks next!
    • Exactly. I sometimes buy textbooks in various academic fields and go through them just for fun. It's a geeky hobby, granted, but no geekier than playing video games, and sometimes the knowledge gained is even useful. Having lectures and assignments on-line is great because it will make my hobby learning easier.
  • by Vagary ( 21383 ) <jawarren@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:14PM (#4307277) Journal

    I worked at Royal Roads University [], a small Canadian university with a focus on distance postgraduate degrees. It was common knowledge there that the real value in an education is interaction with your peers and professor. As a result, a lot of their education delivery theory focused around discussion groups.

    MIT isn't really giving much of anything away. The valuable part of a university education is discussion with your peers and feedback from your professor. All you're getting on this website is a library of multimedia textbooks.

    However this could be very valuable to other, much more modest institutions who can't afford to produce their own multimedia textbooks. To take this poverty to its logical extreme is to create entirely peer-driven classes -- no professor, everything marked by your classmates. Which is a much more exciting idea than just watching reproductive biology lectures naked.

  • Degrees and Such (Score:5, Insightful)

    by puto ( 533470 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:17PM (#4307290) Homepage
    Well, as a tech who who went to school for CS and has some certs here is what the market wants.

    Ok, you are a 22 years old and a Linux god. You know Php, CGI, et al ad naueseam. You got a semi decent project on source forge. Where are your big bucks?

    Well a company looks at it this way. A degree shows that you took the time and completed something. Whether it is in CS or underwater basketweaving. And you might not know fuck all about anything but you showed a little discipline.
    AND college really can teach you some much needed social skills to survive in the real world. I do not care how good you are at what you do, if you piss of the customers cause you are l33t and they ain't, your out the door. And this also means that the Think Geek cap and Spawn t-shirt are not appropriate apparel for all occasions.

    Online courseware is great, and I am one of those people who can pick up things easily from a book. But you know what? Regular classes are great too, you make friends,contacts, meet girls, get out the house.

    All my practical knowledge in this industry I picked up on my own. IS was just starting to hit Unis so the courses were not all the good. I took a lotta business classes which have come in handy.

    I like to see someone with a degree and mad skills. Good combination. Degrees are not that hard, and unis can come cheap here in the us. And if you got the skils you can get a job to pay for the school are do it yourself.

    And before you come down on me. I got a GED at 20, started college at 23, finished at 28. Cause even though I got pretty good jobs with my skills, as soon as I got that paper, it opened many more doors.

    So the online thing is great to a point. But you gotta have the real world behind it.

    And at 32 years old I wish I could back do the uni earlier, and give my younger self a swift kick in the ass. Oh and buy some Microsoft stock ;)

    • "Well a company looks at it this way. A degree shows that you took the time and completed something. Whether it is in CS or underwater basketweaving. And you might not know fuck all about anything but you showed a little discipline"

      The thing that kills me: Ok, College completion shows discipline, and that you took the time to complete something. Why then, pray tell, do the people that have gone the military route have such a hard time breaking into the work ranks after their service is up? Surely we can all agree military service is harder than going to college. Also, discipline is an obvious requirement.

      And yet, I today have many friends out of work that are highly qualified former military that cannot get work simply because they don't have that piece of paper. Sad isn't it.
      • Except that military service only demonstrates competence in a narrow specialization (i.e. how to operate specific equipment or something along those lines). I agree that military service is good for developing discipline (as a general rule my college friends who had been in the military or were doing ROTC were much more disciplined than I), but college allows one to demonstrate more general competence in a field more (or less) relevant to the business world.
      • Surely we can all agree military service is harder than going to college

        I beg to differ, having done both. Joining the U.S. military is the easiest thing on earth, as long as you meet the physical and mental requirements. Boot camp beats the crap out of you but it's over soon enough. After that your life is handed to you on a platter. It might not be the life you prefer but all the major decisions are made for you.

        Military training is somewhat valuable. It's mostly just a start, and a real job in the real world is going to require further school.

        Incidently, at least half of the new people reporting to my unit these days are college drop-outs.

    • So the online thing is great to a point. But you gotta have the real world behind it.
      Heh, once upon a time, the "real world" would have been considered to be outside the university environment, as the Jargon File [] notes. How things change. :)
  • McGill too (Score:2, Funny)

    by BSDevil ( 301159 )
    Here at McGill [] in Montreal, we've got the beginings os this type of system set up - [] has about six courses on-line now. Each lecture is composed of all the slides used in the actual lecture, plus the voice track of the lecturer synch'ed to the slides. Useful when you're too hung over to go to Friday morning Chemistry
  • The point is? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Isle ( 95215 )
    All material for all the courses I follow at the moment are available on the web.

    The reason is I am now a postgraduate student and no books exists that cover the kind of recent research material that we need to learn. Instead we use research articles, and they are always published on the net nowadays.

    For the pregraduate studies the dilema is the same, except you have to buy the books at the local bookstore. You can still end up with knowledge without proof.

    So how to prove what you know?
    Just remember to enroll for the exam!

    Oh! so universities are not free in your country?
    Well, that is a completely different issue.
  • OpenEDU? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by swordboy ( 472941 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:32PM (#4307351) Journal
    I've always wondered what makes classroom instruction so damn expensive. After the need to *cough*repeat*cough* some classes over, I thought about something:

    Why can't a professor just video tape the damn lesson and catalogue the class participation? After a few years, I'd assume that there would be a complete class as well as the entire set of questions/clarification that could possibly be asked.

    I also had a prof that made his own book. It'd be real cool if the gov't could create an "open" text book initiative. Books could be freely available online, while other profs could use them, modify them as long as the new version was also freely available.

    Once the material was created, I don't see why there couldn't be an "open university" to be used freely by everyone. Obviously, there'd need to be testing centers created, but that is another topic.

    College is too expensive. It doesn't have to be.
    • Capitalism, it apparently doesn't work the way you want it to.

    • Why can't the prof videotape the lectures? Because virtually all subjects evolve. If the prof is worth his/her salary, next year's lectures will be different than this year's. If they aren't, well, then this is why a degree from MIT costs more than one from Podunk U.
    • Why can't a professor just video tape the damn lesson and catalogue the class participation? After a few years, I'd assume that there would be a complete class as well as the entire set of questions/clarification that could possibly be asked.
      Because then we'd all be still programming in Algol or Snobol or Cobol or ***ol.
    • Re:OpenEDU? (Score:4, Informative)

      by bcrowell ( 177657 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @02:49PM (#4307703) Homepage
      College is too expensive. It doesn't have to be.
      Did you go to a private school? At the community college in California where I teach, the cost is $11 per unit. If you transfer to a Cal State or UC after that, you're still only paying a tiny percentage of the cost of your own education -- the taxpayers pay the rest.

      BTW, what about lab courses? What about the gymnasium? The library? Research? All that stuff costs money too.

      Why can't a professor just video tape the damn lesson and catalogue the class participation? After a few years, I'd assume that there would be a complete class as well as the entire set of questions/clarification that could possibly be asked.
      This makes sense if you had a lot of really horrible teachers who used lecturing as a method of instruction. Lecturing is a ridiculous custom left over from the middle ages, when books were so expensive that students couldn't afford their own copies, so the profs read them out loud, and the students transcribed them.

      The big problem with lecturing is that it's passive. To make the classroom experience worthwhile, you need something active, like students discussing stuff with each other, doing worksheets and getting help from the teacher, etc. None of this would work in a passive medium like video.

      I also had a prof that made his own book. It'd be real cool if the gov't could create an "open" text book initiative. Books could be freely available online, while other profs could use them, modify them as long as the new version was also freely available.
      I can't imagine why the government should get involved in this, but for free textbooks, see my sig. Is your prof's book available for free online? If so, I'd like to catalog it on my site.

    • OpenEdu? No! (Score:4, Informative)

      by RobertFisher ( 21116 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @03:06PM (#4307762) Homepage Journal
      There are a number of points which need to be made.

      First, it takes time to plan out lectures to the extent that they are even worth recording for future generations of students. And time is one resource which most professors do not have. The way academia works today, most professors at major universities are largely occupied by their research activities. Teaching -- especially at the undergraduate level, and most especially at the lower level undergraduate level -- is typically viewed as a nuisance, or at best, a distratction from research. It is quite rare to find a set of lectures worth recording; more often than not, the lectures were prepared in a big hurry the night before or the morning of the lecture. The vast majority of lectures are simply not worth recording in any form.

      That said, excellent class materials DO occasionally become available, though typically in print form (as you alluded to). Faculty teaching commonplace courses (for instance, Quantum Mechanics or Statistical Mechanics in physics) whose subject material does not vary much, will often go back to their old notes, polish them up a bit, and have another go at it in a few years. After a few iterations of this process, excellent course notes are often developed. In many cases, those notes find their way into one of those famous textbooks which you have grown to love (or hate!). A great example is the classic "Spacetime Physics" on special relativity, which included questions from actual students taking the first version of the class, along with authoritative answers from John Wheeler, who is one of the world's foremost thinkers on relativity theory, and also one of the best physics teachers who has ever lived.

      There are several major implicit assumptions in your statement which I should address. Imagine, for instance, that Feynman, when writing his famed lectures, decided to make then "open". What we would have today, in addition to the original, pristine edition, would be a proliferation of umpteen different versions with comments, additions, and substractions made by other folks. Now, this may come as a shock to you, but the world of ideas is not a democracy. Some ideas are better than others; some thinkers better than others. I submit that Feynman's original version would be vastly superior to almost any modified one; hence, the proliferation of "open" texts, when the best texts by the world's foremost thinkers are already available, would do little good other than to confuse and obfuscate the beginning student. You need to critically examine your assumption that open source dogma is applicable to every conceivable circumstance.

      Another huge fact you are missing out on, is that all those great textbooks by the world's greatest thinkers are already at your disposal for free (as in beer). All you need to do is go down to your public library, and check them out! Feynman, Knuth, Plato, Samuelson and others are at your fingertips. If your library does not have a book, just request it through interlibrary loan. This is, in fact, the best of all possible worlds. You really don't want to have to sort through umpteen diluted and distorted "open" versions of those texts.

      As someone who grew up during a time when internet access was not commonly available, I find it amusing and alarming that many younger students seem to think they can find anything they wish on the web. Simple point of fact is, those of us who have sat down with the best texts, bugged our profs with questions, did the labs, and thought about things, came through with a much better understanding of basic sciences than those who scanned the web for some writeup by lord-knows-who at Buttfuck U. Again, the world of ideas is not a democracy.

      Which brings me to another major assumption in your statement : that one can simply acquire the knowledge one needs by passively sitting back and watching a video or reading a book. In fact, the biggest factor in learning is doing. Working out homeworks. Doing labs. Asking questions in lecture and in sections. This is a really key fact that most beginning students really miss out on; even in introductory courses, there are many challenging concepts which most students fail to absorb. (For instance, how many of you who have taken a basic physic class can explain how a top precesses? Or PRECISELY how the twin paradox works?) Watching another student ask the same questionm may help to some extent, but you will then miss out on another crucial part of learning, which is learning how to ask the right questions. When you boil it all down, learning is essentially an active, participatory experience; you will learn much, much more by becoming actively engaged, rather than just sitting back on your couch and watching a video or reading a book. And you simply cannot do that without lecturers, labs, teaching assistants, and so on. That is why learning at all levels (kindergarten and up) is inevitably so expensive, if done properly.


  • by peter303 ( 12292 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @01:58PM (#4307462)
    I have a MIT degree. Sure, you can learn a lot by reading the right stuff, even going to a college bookstore and buying the textbook (which generally dont exist for many MIT courses, because they are ahead of the material). But it is interacting with the instructor and fellow students that make the difference, whether doing problem exercises or in testing that really re-inforce whether you know the material or not.
  • so what... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by thogard ( 43403 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @02:10PM (#4307519) Homepage
    So they give out a few courses...

    Do they give away things they consider real IP?

    For example.... a student ( of theirs came up with a lameass protocol for VoIP (sort of since its over real ethernet packets, not IP packets). That was sold off to a company call NBX corp and their ip rights included lots of cool things like gnu zip and gnu tar from what I've heard of the license agreement. These were later were bought by 3com and all included in a product you can buy today for way too much money.

    Now that 3com is selling me gnuzip, how do I get source or is it some special deal with MIT so they don't have to provide that even though strings shows "You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License" and other worthless nonsense.

    Did I mention that 3com was one of the few IT companies that supported the DMCA?
  • Too many comments from people worrying about getting jobs and being "legitimized". Whatever happened to learning something for learning sake? This is free information that you would otherwise have to pay *thousands* of dollars for. Damn cool.

    And another thing... In intro to grad-stats this semester I've been told that locking down/encrypting course-notes etc will be the wave of the future, this from a state school. Heaven forbid that Joe-taxpayer actually be able to learn on their own! YOU pay taxes that support ME going to school. Shouldn't you have access to all the information generated by your tax-dollars?
  • by be_all ( 524610 ) <> on Sunday September 22, 2002 @02:45PM (#4307682)

    All through elementary school and high school, we are offered a myriad of courses in order to give us broad fundamental skills and to expose us to as much of an variety as possible.

    But, beyond basic skills and experience, school teaches us how to deal with other people, how to intellectually relate to and cooperate with others, how to ask and answer questions.

    College or university is no different. Now, you choose what you want to study, but you do is in an environment that focusses on honing your academic skills to the standards of true academia.

    Course materials are a great information resource, nothing more. I think people in the technology industries tend to lose sight of this more than in other fields because so much detailed information is required in understanding all the different technologies out there. (Ironically, that is how people who have read all the manuals who mistake information for education.) Few people will read information sources just for the hell of it. That's where teachers come in: they provide focus and enthusiasm. Nothing is better for getting through a really boring course that a great professor. The teacher motivates, guides, and assesses: a very important job.

    But ultimately--and I think this is what they believe at MIT and why they're not too concerned about giving the material away for free--degrees are about learning how to apply the fundamental academic skills to the chosen material, and obtaining one is about interacting in an academic environment.

    But, in the real world, if all a person needs is certification for administering an Apache web server, then give them a certification course (information). If they need to understand an Apache web server, give them an university course (education).

  • by MichaelPenne ( 605299 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @03:14PM (#4307784) Homepage
    The next evolution I see (as a courseware developer at a university) is an open degree program: folks take the best classes for their degree from schools all over the world, and then receive the degree from their preferred degree granting institution.

    The benefits of this is that one is not limited to the quality of classes at your local U, if the CS dept is better at MIT, or a particular class is better at Yale, on can take the course there (virtually).

    The things that local schools will provide: computer/web access, standard software and help for that software, places to collaborate with other students, get cheap beer and pizza, take classes that require in person interaction, places to take proctored tests, etc.

    Overall, moving a good part of education online will help free us from the geographical bounds that currently make it tough for kids from San Diego (or Capetown) to get an MIT education, while allowing the best teachers to teach the best students from around the world.

    Of course, how to pay & get paid for all this is another issue, and the one currently holding back alot of technology use in education.

    Some of the other problems:

    Faculty often don't get paid for taking the time to put their materials online. Some schools have a team that does this for the faculty, but many other schools expect them to learn to make their web pages themselves.

    (The irony is that while the don't get paid to type and format their lectures in html and draw their diagrams in illustrator or gimp, they _do_ get paid to spend man-decades of their teaching career scrawling on blackboards! One of the things that drives me nuts about the "traditional" in class experience is sitting around or trying to keep up while a prof. scratches away at a black board or white board when this information could be so much better displayed in a nice, readable font on a projected website!)

    The effectiveness of classes is often partly judged by how many students show up. We had a prof. who teaches an 7am ecology class take all his very good online materials down because he got marked down on reviews for having so few students show up.

    Of course the problems with monitoring testing & providing hands on technology help for students who lack tech skills, the 'digital divide'.

    Fair use of copywritten materials.

    In any event, it's a great first step by MIT. Hopefully the politics and economics of online education will catch up with the technology someday.
  • If anyone is wondering, the link is [] . It can also be found at [] just press the OpenCourseWare link.
  • I've been touting OKI and OpenCourseWare since we first heard about it. I'm working on a PhD in Instructional Tech, and I have to deal with people from SCORM, BlackBoard, and WebCT all the time.

    What the people whose employments are threatened by open course stuff say is that MIT is doing this to force their faculty to create new stuff. Bullocks!

    I personally do not care where it comes from, or why it's being distributed for free, but, if the quality is high, it will cause some change to the field.

    PS - If you're looking for an Open Source prokect that's up this alley, look into textweaver.
  • I have just emailed my Member of Parliament suggesting that our government encourage universities here to do the same at MIT.

    To be effective the universities should be given credit that leads to increases in funding.

    I hope others will contact their MP's too. A good way is Fax Your MP []

  • I know that being able to prove you know the material may be important to many of us but for me this is just nifty as hell. science and computers and all that nifty geek crap we're into is my hobby. I don't think I could ever be a quantum physicist for a job but I love "the knowing" of it.

    This is very cool for those of us that just want "the knowing."
  • Excellent Idea (Score:3, Insightful)

    by j_kenpo ( 571930 ) on Sunday September 22, 2002 @09:16PM (#4308911)
    I have to commend MIt for their effort in this field. This is definitly a idea whos time should have happened much earlier. Inside of our online learning portion of our intranet, we offer many such free courses to individuals in our company willing to learn (hence our title for this "Willing Learner"). I know of other professors at local Universitis that would take full advantage of this. An idea like this coming from MIT can only raise the bar of education for other institutions and students willing to take advantage of this. I can say Ill be looking at some of this content myself...
  • Lots of very interesting opinions being expressed here, but considering our recent experience with Firefly let's hold off on analyzing MIT's program until Sept 30 when it's actually released. Then we can actually look at some of the course material and THEN unleash our praises and criticisms. Personally, having attended a small, non-geek-friendly liberal arts college because I was too introverted to move away from home, I'm salivating to partake of a little vicarious MIT experience, even in a small way.
  • Being someone who was in the online education market (pre dot-bomb), let me tell you *exactly* what's going to happen (and in fact I've already seen happening):

    Right now every teacher for every class delivers lectures. In the future (10-20 years), this will be the exception. Here's what we'll see:
    • As with music and books, will be an online store of "greatest hits" - collections of the best online lectures and course materials (tests, activities, skills tests).
    • The vast majority of instructors will be relegated either to being "support" positions (like most T.A.'s today), roaming class bulletin boards, or being "production assistants" to the Professorial "Superstar", or proctors (grading) for non-automated (e.g. non-multiple choice) tests and assignments.

    This is analogous to what's happened in the music industry. Live band performances are the exception, not the rule. Live bands were killed by the invention of records, CD's, and video. (Most) Live courses are going to be killed by the internet. There's simply no need for 1000's of professors to do "covers" of the material one professor (or a good team of educators) can create and distribute online.

    FYI - here's how a new (and very good!) online course is produced and automated:
    1. A "Superstar" Professor ("Prof. BIG IQ") and her team creates an online course.
    2. She teaches the course for one quarter. (alpha-testing)
    3. She reviews how the course went, and finds ways to automate (via reorganizing and adding more course material, more skills checks) the areas that students find hard to understand. The goal is to have the course "automate" the questions the students ask most.
    4. She "tests" the course again, by teaching it another quarter (beta-testing).
    5. She repeats steps 3 and 4 (rewriting, adding, revising, and testing) until "the course practically teaches itself".
    6. The course is finally "published" and, in fact is better than 99% of the "non-automated" courses out there. Professor "BIG IQ" (and her support team) now moves onto the next challenge.

      Note that I use "is produced" rather than "will be produced in the future" up above, because it's already happening.

      You heard it here first, ladies and gentlemen.
  • I've had the pleasure and opportunity to be involved in the Web development side of MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), and just from coding up all the sample exams, lecture notes, handouts and problem sets I've learned an amazing amount without even intending to. Today, for instance, I'm delving into the world of Linguistics and the intricacies of Tagalog and Athabaskan Slave-Hare.

    It is not just the usual course syllabus and general course information going up on these sites.

    It is important to keep in mind that Sept. 30th is the "public beta" of the pilot site for the MIT OCW project. We are making our first batch of course sites available to the world, while we continue to work out the kinks and bugs in anticipation for the full launch a year from now.

    For someone who is self-taught in Web development and research (like many others here), MIT OCW is not just a valuable tool for teachers and people already knowledgeable of the subject matter on the site, it's an incredible resource for everyone who has access to it -- from the very basic programming skills taught in "Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving," to the complex mathematics of nonlinear dynamics and chaos theory.

    Definitely check out the site [] on Sept. 30 and let us know what you think. Your feedback will help us as we continue to improve.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead